Matthew was a freshman in college. Bright, articulate, handsome, and oh so eager to learn about everything! This was his first experience in the United States, as he had arrived from France only a few weeks before the start of classes. It was easy to like Matthew and he was already popular on the campus. A few months into the year, Matthew went to the college health service with a suspicious lump on his body. After consultations and tests at the hospital, the diagnosis was rendered quickly: malignant melanoma, advanced stage.
The response of the medical team was excellent. Within days, Matthew was scheduled for surgery and follow-up treatments began. I visited Matthew daily and we became good friends. On one occasion, during an evening visit, Matthew shared that his whole life (he was 19) he was always living for what was next, what he was looking forward to. Now, he told me, he could see that is not the way he wanted to live. Rather he wanted to live every moment as it came to him and not for what he was preparing for and or might do. He wanted to fully live each moment. What beautiful insight and wisdom that my young friend shared with me.
When the gravity of Matthew’s illness was confirmed and the prognosis offered no hope beyond a few months, Matthew’s father came on from France, and my young friend returned to his homeland and family to live fully every moment of his all-too-brief remaining time on earth. And he left me with a gift—his love, his friendship and his wisdom.
Now more than thirty-five years later, as a priest rather than a college professor, my appreciation of that precious friendship continues. My respect for young Matthew’s view on how he wished to live his life with such intensity and appreciation of each second has more meaning for me than ever. And I wonder if this simple story does not hold value for you as well.
A few moments ago a young man left my office who spoke of the wonderful and full education and career he enjoyed. He also spoke about the emptiness of his life in spite of all of his successes. He has been way too busy to find time for practicing the faith of his childhood, and now in his thirties wonders how he can get back on track. It is not an unfamiliar story.
We live in a culture that so values accomplishment, achievement and success. Productivity and hard work are rewarded generously to the applause of everyone. All too often the supposed successes are an illusion, masking a deficient personal development of the most important aspects of one’s personhood. Indeed in this wonderful city with so much to offer, it is a cruel irony that so many have so much and feel so empty and lonely.
The words of the fourth-century Augustine of Hippo, intellect extraordinaire and seeker of truth, ring true today as they have for 1,600 years: “Our hearts are restless until they rest in You.” Augustine, not unlike young men and women of this day, sought everywhere for meaning and truth, finally realizing his search ended when he found Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God. He went on to live every moment of his storied life as Bishop of Hippo in North Africa in an intimate relationship with Christ. The Church would declare him a Doctor of the Church and a Saint. His feast day is on August 28 and his writings and teachings continue to guide seekers to this day. Matthew would approve—and likely he and Augustine are now good friends in Heaven.
Fr. James J. Ronan
Pastor, St. Mary-St. Catherine of Siena Parish